Abijatta Shalla Lakes Africa

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Abijatta Shalla Lakes National Park

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Situated in the Great Rift Valley, only 200 kilometres (124 miles) south of Addis Ababa, and in the Lake Langano recreational area, the Abijatta-Shalla Lakes National Park attracts numerous visitors. It was created primarily for its aquatic bird life, particularly those that feed and breed on lakes Abijatta and Shalla in large numbers.
The park comprises the two lakes, the isthmus between them and a thin strip of land along the shorelines of each. Developments have been limited to a number of tracks on land, and the construction of seven outposts. While attention is focused on the water birds, the land area does contain a reasonable amount of other wildlife.
Two different lakes:
The two lakes are very different in character. Abijatta is shallow at about 14 metres (46 feet): Shalla has a depth of 260 metres (853 feet) and is calculated to hold a greater volume of water than all of the Ethiopian Rift Valley lakes put together. Abijatta is surrounded by gentle, grass-covered slopes and swathed in acacia woodlands. Shalla exudes a sense of mystery and foreboding, surrounded as it is by steep, black cliffs and peaks that reflect in its deep waters, which are liable to be whipped up by sudden storms and flurries of wind. It contains nine small, isolated islands, rarely visited since there are no boats on the lake. These islands provide an excellent breeding ground for many bird species.

The network of tracks in this park is always developing. At present you can enter at four different points, three of which are inter-connected. Approaching from Addis you first reach the Horakello entrance, where the small Horakello stream flows between lakes Langano and Abijatta. The stream mouth is a source of relatively fresh water, much frequented by water birds for drinking and bathing.

Abijatta itself is very alkaline but shallow, so flamingoes can be seen scattered over most of its surface, and especially along the windward edge where their algal food source concentrates. You can approach quite closely, but beware of treacherous deep mud if the lake is low. Large numbers of both greater and lesser flamingoes gather here, together with great white pelicans and a host of other water birds.

A track which runs for 20 kilometres (12 miles) along the treeline of the eastern shore of Lake Abijatta connects Horakello with the park headquarters further south at Dole. From here you can see other parts of Lake Abijatta and some mammal species, especially Grant’s gazelle, warthog and occasionally the oribi.

Hot springs: The headquarters houses a small museum, currently being upgraded, which gives an excellent idea of the wealth of birdlife in the park. There are over 400 species recorded here, almost half the number recorded for the whole country. A further track leads on from Dole to the shores of Lake Shalla where hot steam, mud and water bubble to the earth’s surface. Revered locally for their medicinal properties, the hot springs (Filwoha) have a sense of primaeval mystery about them, especially in the cooler early mornings. They are relics of the massive volcanic activity that has formed this amazing country and landscape.

A further entrance to this park exists in the south, where a rough track leads to another small hot spring area at Ghike. Here you can stay in a wooden self-help guest house, perched high on a cliff above the lake, with a view across the islands. There are plans to install a boat at the lake which will ferry small groups of people to the islands to observe the breeding colonies of thousands of great white pelicans and greater flamingoes. The great white pelican colony is estimated to be visited by up to 13,000 pairs annually, and is the most important breeding site for the species in the world.

There is no accommodation in the park but Lake Langano, which lies just over the main road marking the park boundary, has two reasonable hotels on its shores, the Wabe Shebelle and the Bekelle Mola, from which all parts of the park are easily reached. It is possible to camp at the hot springs and further south on the track east of Shalla, leading to the Dedaba River and outpost.

In association with the AbijattaShalla Lakes National Park is Senkello Swayne’s Hartebeest Sanctuary, some 70 kilometres (43 miles) from the town of Shashemene, and close to the Chike entrance of the park. The sanctuary was established for this endemic subspecies of the hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus swaynei) which once roamed the plains of Somalia and Ethiopia in thousands, but is now restricted to four small localities in Ethiopia. The sanctuary is small but well worth a visit. Set beneath a small rounded hill, over 2,000 of these rich, chocolate-coloured hartebeest are packed into this area of wooded grassland, along with bohor reedbuck (Redunca redunca), oribi and many different species of birds.

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